Mcfadden’s hoop dreams
Kenny Mcfadden has been a regular feature at local schools and courts for many years. Joseph Romanos talks to the American basketballer about arriving here in the 1980s, sleeping on a bottlestore floor and working with youngsters.
Was basketball always your sport?
Gridiron was my No 1 sport. My father and three uncles played professionally.
I did track, played softball and baseball, boxing – a lot of sport.
When I turned 17 I had to make a decision and chose to take up a basketball scholarship.
Why did you come to New Zealand?
It was 1982. I was on a basketball scholarship at Washington State University and got injured.
My coach said I should spend some time playing overseas and gave me the choice of Czechoslovakia or New Zealand. I asked who spoke English and came here.
What did you know about New Zealand?
Nothing. Clyde Huntley, a basketballer I knew, had come here, but that was about it.
I figured New Zealand was in the South Pacific, so it would be all palm trees and sunshine.
I flew into Wellington in a southerly. It rained for my first four weeks!
What about our basketball then?
My club was Saints and they were in the national second division. We played Centrals, a first division team, the day after I arrived and lost by three.
The Saints guys seemed very happy, which didn’t sit with me. I liked to win.
I remember walking into the St Pat’s gym and wondering where the stands were. At Washington State, the gym seated 14,000, and we played televised games.
So facilities were rudimentary.
The main local stadium was in Newtown. There were vines growing through the roof. The building leaked and there’d be puddles everywhere. When we wanted to train there, we’d have to break in through a small window to open the doors.
At that stage I was determined to get an NBA contract, and kept saying to myself, ‘‘Whatever it takes, whatever it takes’’. It was a different culture. The players drank a lot after games. Great big bottles of beer. We travelled to an Easter tournament in Napier and when we arrived we headed straight for the Criterion Hotel bottlestore.
I thought, ‘‘Not before the game, surely!’’ But it was where we slept. Terry Orchard threw me a sleeping bag and we slept on the bottlestore floor.
So you didn’t plan to be in New Zealand long.
Every year was going to be my last year. My plan was to get into the NBA. I’d go back and try every year, but I never made it.
Then I decided to settle here. It’s such a great country.
The 1980s were halcyon days for our national basketball league.
It was a fantastic time. Saints were promoted to the first division and made seven finals. We won four.
Everyone remembers the 1985 final against Auckland. The game was televised live. Auckland, who had all the stars, had beaten us by 20 twice that season. In the final it was 100-100 at full-time and in overtime I hit the winning shot right on the buzzer. That was one of my great basketball moments.
The national league was huge then, sellout crowds everywhere.
What did you think of New Zealand in those days?
When I arrived I was amazed how the kiwi would come on television about 9 o’clock during weeknights and say, ‘‘Goodnight’’. There were only two channels.
I was living with Clyde Huntley in Highbury and we’d then get out a basketball and walk all the way to Courtenay Place, bouncing the ball along the way. We’d go to Hot Dog House, then walk home.
Why did you stay in Wellington?
Auckland reminded me too much of Los Angeles. Wellington was a small town with the things a city offers and I’ve always liked it.
What did you do when you retired?
I’d been the Saints player-coach almost right through, but in 1996 I decided I wanted to work with young people. I started HoopClub. We go into schools and base ourselves at local rec centres. We do six sessions a week, up to 120 kids a session.
There’s nothing more satisfying than coaching youngsters. You can influence their lives, build character.
Coaching top players, you’re really only managing them.
It’s why I enjoyed coaching the junior Tall Blacks, too.
HoopClub has been a big success.
We’ve been to every school in the Wellington area. One time we held a dunking contest out at Cannons Creek and there were 3000 kids there. If someone takes an interest and offers something, the kids will respond.
I suppose Steve Adams is your big star.
He has been amazing. He was 14 and on the streets in Rotorua when we got hold of him. But he had the pedigree – his sister is a world champion – and he had the physical equipment. He got a scholarship at Scots College and adapted well to the requirement of training to be a topclass athlete.
Turned out he’d been thirsting for some discipline. Now he’s the hottest young kid in American basketball.
I always wanted to coach a player to go to the NBA and Steve will be the first, but not the last.
We’ve sent to the US 28 players on scholarships in the last eight years.
Kenny McFadden: ‘‘When I arrived I was amazed how the kiwi would come on television about 9 o’clock during weeknights and say, ‘Goodnight’.’’